Can Coral Reinvent the Wheel?

TECHNOLOGY

The tread pattern on a new, sphere-shaped concept tire was inspired by the whorls of brain coral. (BBC)

See how other engineers are inspired by nature.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas

  • What two features distinguish the new Eagle 360 concept tire from a regular tire?
    • The tire is sphere-shaped. Most tires are wheels (circular features that rotate on an axle) while this one looks like a round rubber ball. (FYI, the tire is the flexible, cushioned support for the sturdy rim of the wheel.)
    • The tread pattern on the Eagle 360 is not linear, as with regular tire treads. The tread pattern extends across the entire surface of the tire.

 

  • The development of the new tire is an example of biomimicry. What is biomimicry?
    • Biomimicry is the process of using models, systems, and elements of nature as a guide for developing new technology.

 

  • Why would engineers look to a brain coral for inspiration for a round tire? Click on the photos above for some help.
    • According to the BBC, “While linear treads make a ton of sense when a tire rolls around a single axis, a sphere needs to grip no matter which way it’s going.”
    • FYI: The Eagle 360’s tread design does not only mimic brain coral. It is also mimics the grip of a human fingerprint. “Like your fingertips, the 360 would become softer and grippier in wet conditions, but stiffen when dry.” Cool.

 

  • What are the advantages to a round (as opposed to simply circular) tire?
    • The tires were developed largely for self-driving vehicles (including extraterrestrial rovers). “[A]n autonomous vehicle could move in any direction at any angle at any time, spinning the vehicle in place to turn around, making completely parallel lane changes, or crab-rolling sideways to parallel park in a tiny space after dropping its passengers. These maneuvers are impossible to execute using a human/steering-wheel interface (which requires forward momentum to execute a turn), but with a robot in charge of a spherical tire, just about anything is possible.”

 

  • How soon will we be able to drive around on these 360° tires?
    • Not soon; these are concept tires made to experiment or display innovative technology and styling. They’re not quite made for the mass market.
    • The major engineering problem the good folks at Goodyear need to resolve is the fact that unlike a wheel, a “sphere has no central axis, and therefore no axle wherewith to affix something like a vehicle or a drivetrain.”
      • This is not an insignificant issue. “The Eagle-360 (in concept) will overcome this design constraint by using magnetic levitation to suspend a vehicle above its tires, and use the same technology to drive and brake them. Of course, maglev technology is today deployed only in the very linear application of trains. Goodyear isn’t currently working with a technical partner to develop a rounder version of maglev.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: Can We Really Reinvent the Wheel?

Nat Geo: Engineering Inspirations from Nature activity

Nat Geo: What is an axis?

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